We are attached to our screens and devices. We use our phones, tablets, and computers for everything, from work to connecting socially with friends and family.
As many of us are still facing some level of stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic, we may be more glued to our technology than ever before.
As if we need anything else to worry about right now, some people are wondering if the blue light emitted by those screens does have potentially harmful effects.
The following are some of the major things to know about blue light and the risks of screens on mental and physical health.
What is blue light?
The digital world and the influx of technology into nearly every part of our lives have positive and negative implications. Of course, the positives include the convenience of working remotely and being connected with the world from anywhere.
There are possible adverse effects to be aware of as well.
Digital devices including TVs and smartphones emit blue light, for example.
Every color of light that’s on the visible spectrum has varying wavelengths and amounts of energy.
Red light has less energy and longer wavelengths.
Blue light is on the other end of the spectrum from a red light, and it is made up of shorter wavelengths and a higher energy concentration.
Along with screens, blue light can come from fluorescent and LED lights and CFL bulbs.
When you’re exposed to blue light during daylight hours, it can help ensure your circadian rhythm stays on track, and it can give you small boosts in terms of cognitive function and alertness.
However, we are exposed to more blue light risks than ever before because of technology.
While screens do expose us to blue light in a significant way, blue light is inherently all around us. For example, the sun emits blue light.
How does blue light affect us?
Children under the age of 14 are most affected by blue light. Until a child is around 14, their corneas aren’t fully developed, and they don’t have the same protection as we have in our eyes as adults. This is especially true for children who spend a lot of time in front of screens.
Ongoing, increased exposure to higher energy blue light is linked to increasing rates of nearsightedness being diagnosed among children.
There are issues adults need to be aware of as well.
For example, our eyes can actually retain energy, meaning the blue light can cumulatively build up in the backs of our eyes over time leading the tiredness, eye strain, and dry eyes.
One of the most common ways blue light can affect all of us is by interrupting our circadian rhythm.
Think about how, in recent years, which aligns with the growth of screen-based technology, a lack of sleep has increasingly plagued so many Americans.
At the same time, most of us also look at our phones or other screens within hours of trying to go to bed, or sometimes even right before. We may even fall asleep while looking at our phones.
When you’re exposed to too much blue light before bed, it delays your circadian clock and reduces the amount of melatonin you produce naturally.
Not getting enough sleep is linked with many poor health outcomes, including an increased risk of weight gain and heart disease. Not getting enough sleep can also wreak havoc on your immune system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you get less than seven hours of sleep at night, you may also be at greater risk for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Another potential issue that can stem from too much blue light exposure is called Digital Eyestrain Syndrome or DES. According to the American Optometric Association, digital eye strain is a group of conditions related to your eyes and vision.
The conditions come from using electronic devices too much.
The more screen time you engage in, the more you’re likely to notice these symptoms, and the worse your discomfort could be.
Symptoms include not only eye strain and dry eyes, but also blurry vision, headaches, and pain in your shoulders and neck.
Blue light and macular degeneration
Blue light is very penetrating, and our eyes aren’t inherently good at blocking it out, which is one reason why so much exposure can be bad for our eye health.
There’s a condition called macular degeneration that you may be more at risk of developing if you’re exposed to a lot of blue light as well.
Macular degeneration can occur when blue light damages the cells in the retina, and it can eventually cause permanent vision loss.
Should you wear blue light glasses?
If you want to protect your eyes, particularly if you’re a tech-addict or you’re looking at screens all day for work, there are options.
One option is to use a blue light filter on the screen of your device. A filter reduces the blue light on your iPhone.
These filters can be used on computer screens, and they’re also available for tablets and smartphones.
They prevent some of the blue light from reaching your eyes, but you can still see the display of your screen.
Another option is the increasingly popular blue light glasses.
Blue light blocking glasses have special lenses that theoretically work to filter out some of the blue light from your screens, and they may help reduce glare that can protect your retina.
It’s important to realize that a lot of issues you may be experiencing with your eyes aren’t just because of the blue light, but are because your eyes are fatigued by screens in general.
The best thing you can do, even if you are addicted to tech and your screens, is to try and be cognizant of how much time you’re spending looking at them. Try to take breaks throughout the day, and stop using screens three to four hours before you plan to go to bed.